Gaza’s Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya will not attend an upcoming Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said on Sunday.
“The prime minister received a generous invitation from the Iranian president to participate in the NAM summit,” he wrote in a statement, adding that Haniya initially “said he might be going but he decided today to apologise.”
It was a swift U-turn for the Islamist movement which had on Saturday announced that Haniya would attend the summit following an “invitation from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed that Haniya had been invited to the gathering as a “special guest.”
But the announcement sparked a furious response from the rival Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, with foreign minister Riyad al-Malki saying president Mahmud Abbas would boycott the summit if Haniya attended.
Nunu said that as a consequence Haniya had decided to stay at home in the interests of Palestinian solidarity.
“He didn’t want his participation to lead to deepening Palestinian, Arab and Islamic divisions on the Palestinian cause,” his statement said.
On Sunday morning, Iran also executed a swift U-turn, saying Haniya had never been invited in the first place.
Summit spokesman Mohammed Reza Forqani said in a statement quoted by the ISNA and Mehr news agencies that “no official invitation from the Islamic Republic of Iran” or Ahmadinejad had been sent to Haniya “up to now.”
Shortly afterwards, Malki told AFP that the Palestinian Authority had received personal assurances from his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi that Haniya “wasn’t invited to attend the summit in any way.”
Malki said he would travel to Tehran on Monday for further “clarification and reassurance” from the Iranians, and only after that would Abbas’s own attendance be confirmed.
According to the Hamas-linked PIC website, Haniya’s decision not to attend was linked both to a desire not to exacerbate inter-Palestinian divisions and to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody repression of a popular uprising.
Assad is supported by Tehran.